Since the dawn of Hollywood, producers have adapted stories from stage to screen, including A Streetcar Named Desire, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Amadeus. In recent years, big-budget musicals — like In the Heights and Dear Evan Hansen — have gotten all the attention, but we’re in a surprisingly robust Golden Age of Broadway dramatic adaptations as well.
This Thanksgiving, for instance, will see the release of The Humans, a film based on Stephen Karam’s Tony-winning 2016 drama, in theaters and on Showtime. Starring Richard Jenkins (74), Jayne Houdyshell (68), June Squibb (92), Amy Schumer, Steven Yeun and Beanie Feldstein, the funny but deceptively dark movie is set over the course of one Thanksgiving dinner in a run-down Manhattan apartment, and it’s already gaining Oscar buzz. Once you’ve watched, check out these 14 other films based on Tony winners and nominees that have opened since the year 2000.
Based on: Copenhagen (1998), by Michael Frayn, 88; three Tony wins (out of three nominations), including best play
The plot: In Copenhagen in 1941, German physicist Werner Heisenberg met with his Danish mentor, Niels Bohr, although the two great thinkers were by then on opposite sides in a world war. History shows that the conversation ended their friendship, and this high-minded play imagines what they might have discussed, from politics to nuclear power to atomic bombs. While the original production was abstract and dreamlike, set on a mostly bare stage, the BBC turned it into a handsome period piece, starring Daniel Craig (53) as Heisenberg and Stephen Rea (75) as Bohr.
Watch it: Copenhagen on Amazon Prime
Based on: Proof (2000), by David Auburn, 51; Pulitzer Prize for Drama and three Tony wins (out of six nominations), including best play
The plot: Catherine Llewellyn (Gwyneth Paltrow) is mourning the death of her father, Robert (Anthony Hopkins, 83), a mathematical genius who suffered from mental illness. As she gets ready for the funeral, her older sister, Claire (Hope Davis, 57), arrives to sell the house and take her back to New York, while one of Richard’s former graduate students, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), discovers a potentially revolutionary proof in one of his notebooks. Catherine claims to have discovered the breakthrough herself, but she’s also unsure if she has inherited her father’s mental instability.
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The History Boys (2006)
Based on: The History Boys (2004), by Alan Bennett, 87; six Tony wins (out of seven nominations), including best play
The plot: Originating at London’s Royal National Theatre in 2004, this crowd-pleasing drama is set in a boys grammar school in the north of England in the 1980s, as the students prepare for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams. The late Richard Griffiths, whom you might know as Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon Dursley, won an Olivier and a Tony for his role as a beloved teacher with a secret. He joined the rest of the original cast in the film adaptation, which featured a crew of young actors as “the boys” who would go on to big things, including James Corden, Russell Tovey and Dominic Cooper.
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Based on: Doubt: A Parable (2004), by John Patrick Shanley, 71; Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tony wins (out of eight nominations), including best play
The plot: At a Bronx Catholic school in 1964, the strict and conservative principal, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep, 72), begins to suspect that the progressive parish priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is molesting an altar boy named Donald (Joseph Foster), the first Black child to attend the school. Amy Adams costars as new teacher Sister James, and Viola Davis, 56, delivers one of the finest acting moments in her illustrious career. Just how good was she? Like Streep, Adams and Hoffman, Davis earned an Oscar nomination for her performance — even though she was only on screen for less than eight minutes.
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Based on: Frost/Nixon (2006), by Peter Morgan, 58; one Tony win (out of three nominations), for best actor (Frank Langella, 83)
The plot: Playwright and screenwriter Peter Morgan, 58, knows a thing or two about dramatizing history, from his work on The Queen and The Crown, but his interests extend beyond the British monarchy. Case in point: this play about a series of televised interviews in 1977 between English broadcaster David Frost (Michael Sheen, 52) and disgraced former president Richard Nixon (Langella). Ron Howard, 67, adapted the West End and Broadway hit for the screen, and the resulting film earned five Oscar nominations.
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Based on: Rabbit Hole (2006), by David Lindsay-Abaire, 51; Pulitzer Prize for Drama and one Tony win (out of five nominations), for best actress (Cynthia Nixon, 55)
The plot: “The Biltmore Theater had better be paid up on its flood insurance,” wrote New York Times critic Ben Brantley, 67, in his 2006 review. “Rabbit Hole … inspires such copious weeping among its audience that you wonder early on if you should have taken a life jacket.” In this wrenching family tragedy, Becca (Nicole Kidman, 54) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart, 53) are dealing with the unimaginable grief of losing their 4-year-old son after he ran into the street and got struck by a car. Miles Teller, whom you might know as the drummer in Whiplash, makes his feature film debut as the driver, who is equally destroyed by the accident.
Based on: God of Carnage (2008), by Yasmina Reza, 62; three Tony wins (out of six nominations), including best play
The plot: Two couples meet to discuss a playground fight between their sons, one of whom has knocked out the other’s front teeth with a stick, in this deliciously vicious little black comedy. What begins as a civilized evening of espressos and clafouti quickly devolves into a knockdown, drag-out battle that calls to mind Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The cinematic adaptation by Roman Polanski, 88, brings together an accomplished quartet of actors — Jodie Foster (58), Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz (65) and John C. Reilly (56) — who perfectly capture the slow-burn descent into chaos.
War Horse (2011)
Based on: War Horse (2007), by Nick Stafford, 62; five Tony wins (out of five nominations), including best play
The plot: Based on the 1982 novel by Michael Morpurgo, 78, this inspiring (if often harrowing) epic illustrates the devastation and destruction of World War I as seen through the eyes of a horse. The original stage production relied heavily on life-size puppets, which lent the play an almost fairy-tale air. The adaptation by Steven Spielberg, 74, goes for gritty realism, which reaches an emotional climax when our pal Joey (who is played by 14 different horses) gets trapped in barbed wire in no-man’s-land and has to be rescued by a British and a German soldier.
August: Osage County (2013)
Based on: August: Osage County (2007), by Tracy Letts, 56; Pulitzer Prize for Drama and five Tony wins (out of seven nominations), including best play
The plot: When an Oklahoma patriarch, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), goes missing one August night, the rest of the family arrives to support his wife, Violet (Streep), who is moody and mean-spirited and copes with her cancer through pills and booze. The star-studded ensemble includes Julia Roberts (54), Julianne Nicholson (50) and Juliette Lewis as Violet’s daughters and Margo Martindale (70) as her sister, and the script by Tracy Letts — whom you might also know as an actor from Lady Bird and Little Women — is filled with dark humor and jaw-dropping revelations.
Venus in Fur (2013)
Based on: Venus in Fur (2010), by David Ives, 71; one Tony win (out of two nominations), for best actress (Nina Arianda)
The plot: This disorienting and sexy French two-hander has a simple premise on the surface: An amateurish actress named Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner, 55) rushes into a theater for an audition with Thomas (Mathieu Amalric, 56), the writer-director of a new play based on the 1870 novel Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a book that inspired the idea of “masochism.” But then things get weird. She soon goes from unprepared to eerily perfect, and as the power dynamic begins to shift, it becomes less and less clear what’s really going on. Why does she know all her lines if she hasn’t read the script yet? How can she predict so much about Thomas’ personal life? Who is Vanda?
All the Way (2016)
Based on: All the Way (2012), by Robert Schenkkan, 63; two Tony wins (out of two nominations), for best play and best actor (Bryan Cranston, 65)
The plot: The Breaking Bad star reprises his Tony-winning role as President Lyndon B. Johnson in this HBO adaptation, which costars Marvel’s Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr., Oscar winner Melissa Leo (61) as first lady Lady Bird Johnson and Frank Langella as Georgia Sen. Richard Russell Jr. The sweeping political drama covers everything from the passage of the Civil Rights Act to the Freedom Summer and the 1964 presidential campaign against Barry Goldwater, with Cranston adding a Screen Actors Guild Award to his already overstuffed mantel.
Wild Mountain Thyme (2020)
Based on: Outside Mullingar (2014), by John Patrick Shanley; one Tony nomination for best play
The plot: Decidedly lighter fare than Shanley’s Doubt, this sweet romance follows two neighboring Irish farmers who, despite being — let’s face it — very single and very, very attractive, don’t seem to know a damn thing about love. Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) pines for Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan), who’s lived next door since childhood, but he’s convinced himself that he’s unlovable. Anthony’s father (Christopher Walken, 78) toys with the notion of selling the farm to his nephew from New York (Jon Hamm, 50) rather than leave it to his son — which sparks a fighting spirit in Anthony. It never quite rises to the magic of Shanley’s most famous film, Moonstruck, but you can find something to swoon over if you get on its weird wavelength. Just don’t come expecting passable Irish accents…
The Father (2020)
Based on: The Father (2012), by Florian Zeller; one Tony win (out of two nominations), for best actor (Langella)
The plot: French playwright Florian Zeller made his directorial debut with this psychological drama about the ravages of dementia, starring an utterly heartbreaking Anthony Hopkins as retired engineer and widower Anthony and Olivia Colman as his devoted daughter, Anne. The gut-punch power of the play (and its adaptation) lies in the fact that we, as audience members, are always left on shaky ground — much like Anthony, we never quite know who or what is real or imagined, safe or scary. Zeller picked up a best screenplay Oscar for adapting his own play, and Hopkins became the oldest best actor winner in Academy Awards history.
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Based on: Oslo (2016), by J.T. Rogers, 53; two Tony wins (out of seven nominations), including best play
The plot: This true-life epic offers a behind-the-curtains view of the secret negotiations that led to the 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Andrew Scott (Moriarty from BBC’s Sherlock) and The Affair’s Ruth Wilson star as the husband-and-wife Norwegian diplomat duo Terje Rød-Larsen (73) and Mona Juul (62), who had an unexpectedly enormous hand in organizing the back-channel chats that led to the diplomatic breakthrough.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.